Hiaasen, 59, had been an assistant editor and a Sunday columnist at the Capital Gazette since 2010.
A native of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, he had been a staff reporter for The Palm Beach Post in Florida and more recently had spent 15 years reporting for The Baltimore Sun, according to his staff biography.
His brother Carl Hiaasen told CNN on Friday that Rob “was so proud of those reporters (and) the other editors” at the Capital Gazette.
“What he would want me to say was everything (they did) was for the readers,” Carl Hiaasen said.
He wrote in a Facebook post that his brother was affectionately known as “Big Rob” because he towered over people, “but it was his remarkable heart and humor that made him larger than all of us.”
“He spent his whole gifted career as a journalist, and he believed profoundly in the craft and mission of serving the public’s right to know the news,” he added.
Tom Marquardt, the former publisher and editor of the Capital Gazette, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that Hiaasen was an “incredible mentor” to young reporters and editors.
“I mean, he was a calming voice in that newsroom,” Marquardt said. “Also an inspiring voice. An incredibly gifted writer with a sense of humor … He was just a joy to be around.”
That sentiment was echoed by Teresa Johnson, one of Hiassen’s students at the University of Maryland, where Hiassen taught an advanced news writing course as an adjunct lecturer this past spring.
It was Hiassen’s first class at Maryland, but to his eight students, he “was like our journalism dad,” inspiring them to be better reporters and often checking in on them, Johnson said.
Johnson, a 22-year-old multiplatform journalism and studio art major, recalled Hiaasen passing around a canister of gum to his students in every class, and talking them through how he reported his own pieces.
“You could just tell he was so excited to teach, and he was so intrigued by what the class had to write,” Johnson said.
Hiaasen was a Knight journalism fellow at Stanford University in 2004, where he focused on screenwriting and narrative journalism.
Hiaasen had also been a news anchor and reporter at news-talk radio stations throughout the South, his bio said.
He is survived by children and his wife of 33 years, his brother said.